Type 2 diabetes linked to earlier health problems and cancer

Obesity is a major driver of type 2 diabetes, accounting for 80 to 85% of the risk of developing the condition.

28 March 2022

People with type 2 diabetes suffer more middle-aged health problems – and at a younger age – than those without the condition, according to a new study.

Experts from the University of Cambridge examined data for three million people and found that those with type 2 diabetes had a higher risk of 57 illnesses, with an overall 9% increased risk of cancer compared to people without it.

The higher risks included a greater chance of developing liver cancer, end-stage kidney disease, neurological problems and serious eyesight issues.

The study, which is the most comprehensive of its type, found those with type 2 diabetes suffered these problems, on average, five years earlier than those without the condition.

Obesity is a major driver of type 2 diabetes, accounting for 80 to 85% of the risk of developing the condition.

Obese people are thought to be up to 80 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those with a body mass index of under 22.

The new study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, is being presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference online and in London.

It used data from the UK Biobank and GP records and examined 116 conditions commonly seen in the middle aged.

The results showed that type 2 diabetes increased the risk of 57 of them compared to people without the condition.

Those with type 2 diabetes were 5.2 times more likely to have end-stage kidney disease, 4.4 times more likely to have liver cancer and 3.2 times more likely to have macular degeneration of the eye.

When it came to circulatory conditions, such as of the heart, blood vessels or blood, those with type 2 diabetes had a higher risk of 23 out of 31 problems.

Type 2 diabetes was found to be associated with a higher risk of poor health across all 11 broad categories, with a 2.6 times higher risk of neurological issues, a 2.3 times higher risk of eye problems, 1.9 times higher risk of digestive issues and 1.8 times higher risk of mental health problems.

The study was of people aged over 3O, with the average age being 50.

Experts found that higher risks occurred when people were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes under the age of 50.

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: “The complications of diabetes can be serious and life-threatening.

“This study illustrates in alarming detail the unacceptable prevalence of poor health in middle-aged people with type 2 diabetes, and is a stark reminder of the extensive and serious long-term effects of diabetes on the body.

“Type 2 diabetes and the complications that can lead from it are not inevitable.

“That’s why it’s so important that people at increased risk of type 2 diabetes are supported to reduce their risk, and that those living with the condition have continued access to routine care and support to manage it well and avoid or delay complications.”

Dr Luanluan Sun, who co-led the study in her previous role as clinical epidemiologist at Cambridge University, said: “Preventing and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes remains essential to reduce the likelihood of poor health in middle age.”

NHS clinical director for diabetes and obesity Professor Jonathan Valabhji said: “This study is a stark reminder of the wider implications of Type 2 diabetes and obesity for individuals, and for the NHS.”

He encouraged people to use Diabetes UK’s Know Your Risk tool, adding that the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has already offered support to half a million people.

The programme, which provides advice on healthy eating and exercise, resulted in 18,000 fewer people being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in England between 2018 and 2019 – a 7% reduction – according to new research by the University of Manchester.

More than 4.9 million people are currently living with diabetes in the UK, with 90% of those being type 2.

This includes 850,000 people who are undiagnosed.

Experts estimate that more than 13.6 million people are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the UK.

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